Just when we thought it couldn’t get anymore interesting, the round of 32 made this NCAA Tournament one for the ages. All but one number-1 seed were tested in their first two matchups, and now only two remain. Cinderella stories like Princeton have marched onto the Sweet Sixteen, while others like Farleigh Dickinson struck midnight.
It’s been a great showing for future-NBA prospects. There is still plenty of first-round talent still on display, as well as some potential second round players who are working their way up draft boards. There will be some great scouting games in the Sweet 16 this weekend, including Houston vs. Miami, Gonzaga vs. UCLA and Arkansas vs. UCONN. If you’ve grown tired of low-stakes games, why not check out some potential future-Spurs in win or go home action?
San Antonio finds itself with the 3rd worst record in the NBA, just a game and a half ahead of Houston for second, and 3 games behind Charlotte for 4th. As it stands right now, the Spurs pick can fall anywhere between 1-6. That means there are only a handful of prospects to watch in the tournament that are in their top pick range. However, they do own two second round picks, and could take a look at some lower-end of round 1 and higher end of round-2 guys that are still playing for a championship.
Last week we discussed Furman’s Jalen Slawson, UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. and Arkansas’s Anthony Black. Both Black and Jaquez Jr. will have a chance to move onto the next round. Spurs fans still have a chance to catch both of these players along with these three new prospects to watch in Sweet 16 games.
Brandon Miller, 6-9 Guard/Forward, Alabama
Perhaps the most discussed draft prospect in recent months, Brandon Miller has went from mid-to-late first round pick to a top-3 guy in this class over the course of his freshman season. Miller has struggled in his two tournament games while dealing with a groin injury. He was scoreless in round one, and put up 19 points and 7 rebounds on 29% shooting from the field in Bama’s second round win over Maryland.
The AP All-American freshman has been one of the strongest scorers in college basketball, averaging 19 points per game, 8 rebounds per game and shot 44% from the field, while going 39% from deep. He’s an elite catch and shoot scorer who can rise up over the top of defenses with an old school fundamental jump shot. He rebounds at a high rate for essentially a shooting guard, and has improved his driving skills over the course of the season. His ability to shoot off of the bounce has made him a tantalizing prospect. He routinely pulls up from behind the three point line with a difficult to contest jump shot. Think Devin Vassell but bigger and with less range of motion on his jumper.
Like Vassell, Miller is rail thin. His approximate weight is somewhere around 200 lbs. That’s made rim finishing tough for him, although he’s gotten much better at driving to the basket hard and trying to finish athletically. His frame also makes it difficult to defend inside. Even in his best games he will get thrown around occasionally, and opposing teams have started to play physical with him. On the defensive end he competes with his length and athleticism, a lot of effort and positional awareness. His defensive metrics are really solid, with a 4.3 defensive box plus minus. But the NBA is a man’s game, and he will need to add strength to his frame to compete at the next level.
But all of this is not nearly as important as the off of the court concerns the Spurs may have with Miller. He was mentioned in a policy testimony in the ongoing investigation involving former Alabama forward Darius Miles and the murder of 23-year-old Jamea Harris. His attorney has since disputed claims of any wrongdoing from Miller.
The Spurs just lost a former lottery pick with off-court issues. Are they going to take a risk on another player like that? The case is still ongoing, and San Antonio will undoubtedly do their due diligence in the pre-draft process. Miller has superstar potential, but with a top-3 pick, you have to be absolutely certain it won’t come back to bite you down the line.
Noah Clowney, 6-10 Foward/Center, Alabama
Another Alabama freshman has impressed down the stretch this year, catching the eye of NBA draft experts and scouts alike. He’s a versatile big standing at 6’10” with a 7 foot 2 inch wingspan. Clowney plays inside and out for the Crimson Tide, knocking down corner threes and erasing shots inside. He’s averaged 10 points, 8 rebounds and 1 block per game in his freshman season.
He’s a solid athlete who climbs the ladder to finish at the basket, secure rebounds and block shots. His per-100 possession numbers (the average number of possessions in an NBA game) are off of the charts on the defensive end. He’s blocking 2 shots and posting an 89 defensive rating per-100. As a defender, he is the type of versatile big that makes switching, blitzing and trapping possible and helps create a dynamic defense.
The kicker is he can shoot threes too. He’s a bit unproven in this area, hitting just 29% from range this season on 3 attempts per game, but if you watch Alabama, he is routinely spacing the floor for guys like Miller and Jahvon Quinerly to attack the paint. He has a lot of potential in the pick and pop, as he is a physical screener who should find himself open a lot in that action.
Much like his teammate, he needs to add some weight to make it at the next level. While he is tough and fights inside, Clowney can get pushed off of his spot by bigger guys due to his 210-pound frame. He’s not great with the ball in his hands yet either. When guys run him off of the line he’s doesn’t handle it well enough yet to make anything happen off of the bounce.
In a piece from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst and Jonathan Givony, they reported that Victor Wembanyama prefers to play the 4 next to a center. If the Spurs end up with the first pick, could they select Clowney in the second round to secure a versatile center who can protect the rim and allow Wembanyama to play forward? That would make them very thin up front, but would be an exciting defensive group who could use its length and speed to guard ball handlers and posts, while spacing the floor on the other end. Even if the Spurs don’t end up with Wemby, Clowney should be someone they consider in the second round.
Isaiah Wong, 6-3 Guard, Miami
If you want to talk about guys that have raised their draft stock this March, it starts with Isaiah Wong. The senior guard from Miami has looked like a potential second-round pick with stellar play in the Hurricane’s matchup against the 4-seeded Indiana Hoosiers. He scored 27 points, had 8 rebounds and a steal, while hitting 4 of his 6 three point attempts.
He’s a high level college scorer, averaging 16.1 points in his senior season on 45/39/84 splits. This season he’s shot his best from three as a collegiate player, and it’s greatly improved his draft stock. He’s good shooting off of the bounce, and has enough athleticism to effectively score at the rim. He’s also become a stronger defender over the course of his career in the ACC. He posted an above average defensive wins shared (1.2) and defensive box plus minus (1.4) in his senior season. His strength and athleticism have helped him overcome his lack of size as an off-guard.
However, Wong isn’t a consistent scorer. For example, in the first round against Drake, he struggled to find his shot, going 10% from the field, scoring 5 points and turning it over twice. Wong isn’t a good enough passer to make up for it either, averaging around 2 turnovers over his collegiate career compared to his average of 2 assists. You would think that with 4 years to develop as a playmaker, Wong would have moved the needle a bit on that end. Unfortunately it remains a weak spot of his game.
For the Spurs, this would be a second round guy who can be a shot maker off of the bench. He’s an older draft prospect, and a bit undersized, but the tape shows he has next-level shot-making ability and athleticism. For San Antonio, the second round should be all about taking swings. Looking to draft someone who has tools that can be refined in their system. Wong certainly has the athleticism and shooting ability, but needs refinement as a playmaker to be a trustworthy combo guard in the NBA. If there is anything the Spurs system will teach you, it’s how to move the basketball. He may be a worthwhile second round flier come draft night.